Oecusse gave me a kind of exclusive feeling. Because I might have been the only tourist in this exclave of Easttimor. Perhaps. At least I felt so, when I walked through Pante Macassar, the main village (or town?) in this remote piece of Timor Island.
I arrived by plane from Dili, by far the most convenient mode of transport - so you do not arrive in the middle of the night by Nakroma ferry, which does its trip twice a week, not knowing what to do until Pante Macassar wakes up. Arriving by plane has a few particularities. You cannot prebook your ticket, but have to show up at the airport at around 9 in the morning, keeping your fingers crossed to find a place in the 19 seater of ZEESM that flies there 6 times a week. (Return is said to be the same, so you cannot ensure a proper planning). But to this exclave of perhaps 70,000 inhabitants, of which less than 1% probably can afford the ticket price of 75 USD, you have a very good chance to make it
there. We were 8.
After some 30 minutes in the air you will a arrive at a brand new airport which is said to have cost close to 200 Mio USD. Being prepared for a tourism business which simply does not exist. Spotlessly clean, impressive, for accommodating not more than around 200 travelers per week what this 19 seater can shovel in and out.
No taxis will be waiting for you, you have to walk a few km into Pante Macassar, unless you are being picked up like anybody else who arrived.
I was lucky. Incredibly lucky. My plan was to stay at the Amasat Guesthouse which you can google and has an email address. But I never got a reply, and it was also not shown on my digital map. Now, the driver who took me to the airport in Dili told me he was from Oecusse, and he knew of a very nice Guesthouse over there. It was the Amasat, and so he Whatsapped to his friend and owner over there that a tourist would arrive. And so Mark waited for me, and I was home and dry. Mark is an Australian, married to his Timorese wife Veronica, and the two were marvelous. I could have my meals there, could rent snorkeling gear, and Mark ensured that in the evening beer never ran out. I had a great time over there.
I would say this is the place to be, even I could surf on Mark’s personal WiFi.
Roads in Pante Macassar are spotlessly clean and wide - even overdimensioned in my view. Somebody must have invested a lot into the infrastructure. A lot also entails a lot of white elefants. The airport is simply over the top - unless tourists would fall into Oecusse, but why should they? Then there is (in my eyes) an oversized government building under construction - another smaller one is unused. Outside of Pante Macassar there is a very nice bridge leading to nowhere (to be exact, the asphalt road ends and gravel road starts, but apart from us I did not see anybody else using the bridge. In Tono, a village, you find a nicely constructed high dam that is now useless, because all the silt and gravel has now filled the reservoir that was meant to be used for irrigation. In rainy season the dam now functions as a water fall. Not far away I was shown a “5star Hotel” invested by the government. Not functioning, and why should a tourist like to stay at all at such an unattractive location, far away from the beach? So much well meant, and so much wasted.
Apart from such greatmanship, Pante Macassar offers a number of Guesthouses where the curious tourist can stay. A very nice Dominican Cafe gives you all retreat you may need, and being almost devoid of any attractions (there are a few, like the ruins of the Portuguese Fort, where you can walk up), you are in a good environment for writing a book a preparing for an exam. No distractions- apart from Mark’s WiFi.
By the way, East Timor is no cheap place like Indonesia. You pay in USD, this is their currency, and you feel the drain in your purse. Price wise not a backpackers paradise.
At the end of my stay, Mark drove me to the border from where I continued my trip to Kupang.